Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 10, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 9 September 2020

Ball One – Staying on the scene, the Essex machine

Ryan ten Doeschate is 40 years old and isn’t blasting the volume of runs he once did. But his experience is a handy insurance policy for a team that seldom needs one. Having shot out Middlesex for 138, Essex’s batsmen looked like they had squandered the good work of their bowlers at 44-4, but the old man of the side had other ideas.

He did not leave the crease for over two hours, during which the late middle order transformed a deficit of 94 runs into a lead of 89, Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer getting in at the other end. Cue Sam Cook and Aaron Beard to elbow their way past the old firm of Jamie Porter and Harmer to bag a combined 7-49 and yet another victory was chalked up.

Essex are through to the Bob final and it would be a brave man – or an overly-confident weather seer – who would bet against them.

Ball Two – Lammonby carries his bat to Lord’s

The only other county to have won four of their five matches, Somerset, will be Essex’s opponents in the final at HQ, but not without being made to work for their day in the slanting Autumnal sun by Worcestershire.

The difference between the sides was opener, Tom Lammonby, who, at 20, has made centuries in consecutive matches and also has a “carried his bat” against his name, a rare distinction that many players spend the length of his lifetime trying to achieve.

But another stat is perhaps more revealing of a talent that is probably the find of the tournament. Under pressure to win, Lammonby’s 107* in an innings of 193, represented 55% of his team runs and, just to underline how tricky scoring proved to be, no Worcestershire batsman beat Ben Cox’s 32 when the hosts set off in pursuit of their target. That was no cheap century and Lammonby is a name to watch.

After last year’s Champo showdown, Somerset and Essex will go again later this month.

Ball Three – Duckett lifts Nottinghamshire’s head above water

Despite Nottinghamshire failing to register their first win of the Bob in their match against Durham, they finished ahead of Leicestershire (who do have a victory) in the North Group by ten points – see Ball Six for my views on that anomaly. Given the state of red ball cricket at Trent Bridge recently, that constitutes progress.

If Notts are to be competitive in 2021’s championship, much will surely depend on their two centurions in this match, Joe Clarke and Ben Duckett.

Despite both men being under 26, they have racked up a scarcely believable 175 first class matches between them so they should be entering the prime of their careers. It’s nearly four years since Duckett played the last of his four Tests, in which he looked painfully raw, but not without talent. He has quietly constructed a very decent 2020 season and might just have the platform now to explore the potential that won him that call-up in Bangladesh and India.

Zak Crawley and Darren Stevens celebrate Kent’s win

Ball Four – DI Stevens solves cricket again

While the future of English batting was making a century at better than a run a ball, a man twice his age was earning himself another year’s contract with the SF Barnesian match figures of 49-23-72-9 in Kent’s win over Hampshire.

Darren Stevens isn’t quite old enough to have played with the man whose longevity and effectiveness surpasses even his own, but he was wobbling it a bit this way and a bit that way long before Zak Crawley was born. He has Michelles in three of the five Bob matches and finishes the group stage as the highest wicket taker (betting without Simon Harmer of course).

Just because we’ve got used to it doesn’t make it any less remarkable.

Ball Five – Bye Bye Belly

I’m not given to sentimentality (yes, I know, Scouser and all) but who didn’t feel a tear in the eye and a swelling of pride in our game when Glamorgan lined up to salute Ian Bell’s last innings in first class cricket and later, alongside Warwickshire, repeated the gesture to mark Jeff Evans’ last match as an umpire?

Some old school courtesies were always honoured as much in the breach as in their observation – walking the most obvious example – and, even today, the moral high ground is contested over running out players backing up yards down the pitch. But fans and fellow players recognise the game’s great servants and pay tribute with a quick and dignified guard of honour, before attempting to stick one up the batsman’s nose first ball.

Exactly how it should be.

Ball Six – A decent spell from the Bob Willis Trophy

The Bob has been a success. The players have given their all, with some new names and some old faces for fans to enjoy and an old truism proved again – there’s not much wrong with cricket that a bit of sunshine can’t cure.

Partly because it would be foolish not to learn lessons from a format foist upon the game and partly because administrators like nothing more than to tinker with the first class structure, the Bob’s backwash will have some impact on the four day cricket in 2021, Covid dominated or not.

I’d make three quick suggestions for any review.

(i) Simplify any points system, reduce the impact of bonus points and make tiebreak rules crystal clear at the start;

(ii) Consult county members and, if possible, the wider cricket community in any review;

(iii) Create a narrative that a casual (or semi-casual) cricket fan can follow – straightforward league tables and a system that ensures that a single sentence can summarises what’s at stake in any fixture.



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 1, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 31 August 2020

Last Monday in August

Ball One – T20 back in vogue

Shiny and new 17 years ago, when taxis would disgorge city types at The Oval to join the men and (yes, I know, because I was there) women and children in a blaze of music, lights and er… booze, Twenty20 was set to become passé in 2020. But the consummation of cricket’s troubled marriage with The Hundred has been put back a year and T20 has made it through the wilderness of Covid and cloud and is back! And, while this week’s fare may not been an immaculate collection of matches, it’s been good to see some old faces getting back into the groove and some new ones, playing for the very first time.

Ball Two – Lancashire beat Derbyshire at Headingley – Twenty20 in 2020

Nottinghamshire and Lancashire lead the North Group, each with five points from two wins and a washout.

My mother used to ask me “Who’s winning?” (a question The Hundred’s format will make harder to answer by the way). As long as the West Indies weren’t playing, I’d sigh and say, “Well…” and she’d mutter that it was a boring game and ask when it would be finished. I’d say, “Well…”… and that’s how we got a cuboid black and white portable television in 1976 or so.

Lancashire were winning their match against Derbyshire for 39 of its 40 overs (especially after Wayne Madsen injured his achilles attempting a ramp just when he had found his range on the drive). Cue Matt Critchley (a talented and resourceful cricketer who might captain his county or another quite soon) to go 6, 2, 4 off the first three deliveries of the last over, and just seven more were needed and Derbyshire were suddenly “winning”. But a leg bye that should probably have been refused, took him off strike and he was run out by Alex Davies’ bullseye (having a good night after 82 with the bat) and Lanky had their win by four runs – with squeakier bums than their superiority deserved.

Ball Three – Clarke writing a new chapter?

After Durham had made 181-3 in their 20 overs (losing only three wickets, are you leaving some runs on the field I wonder), Joe Clarke made short work of the target, his century including eight sixes and seven fours, as Notts cruised home. At 24, having had his seemingly inexorable rise to England’s senior squads derailed by the fallout from evidence presented in the trial of ex-team mate, Alex Hepburn (which led to Clarke serving a four match ban for bringing cricket into disrepute), he has little time to waste if he is to realise his potential as a cricketer.

Older, wiser and with the humility only a shock such as seeing one’s reputation shredded can bring, Clarke has a couple of important years ahead of him. For now, he can concentrate on rescuing Notts’ second consecutive dismal red ball season with a trip to Edgbaston for Finals Day.

Ball Four – Northants cash in on Stirling investment

Northamptonshire stole an early march in the Central Group after a couple of comfortable wins. Paul Stirling, playing as an overseas player so he can continue to turn out for his country, repaid the faith shown in him at Wantage Road with a fine display against Worcestershire. Having picked up a couple of wickets in conceded just 26 runs from his four overs, he teed off to score 80* as 125 target was obliterated with 29 balls to spare.

A few years ago, I used to claim that every T20 XI would evolve into a keeper and ten David Husseys who could bowl darts in at the toes and stand and deliver with bat in hand. It hasn’t quite worked out like that, but the Irishman is about the nearest to the template playing today – and it’s not a bad one.

Ball Five  – White ball princes party like it’s 2009

Sussex, by dint of recording the only win in the South Group, lead the table after a last over win vs Hampshire. It was Luke Wright who led his team home with 82, after Ravi Bopara had scuttled in to bowl his four overs for the concession of just a run a ball.

It’s six years since either man played T20 for England and both are 35 years of age, Ravi a little grizzled these days, but Luke retaining his boy band goofy grin. Each of them has racked up over 100 appearances for England and they could tell the inside story of a different first class match every morning for a year and not repeat themselves. If they’re picking up decent money as guns for hire in the T20 (and shorter!) formats leagues around the world, I wish them well – they’ve earned the right.

Ball Six – The knotty problem of keepers standing up or standing back produces two ties

Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey slot in behind Sussex on two points earned in a tie and a washout apiece. The tie, once a rare and exotic beast, is now more commonplace, but just as much fun.

Ben Foakes, whose life in the England bubble has improved his batting no end, had led Surrey’s chase of 144, but perhaps the denouement should have been no surprise. The side that can’t win lost two wickets off the last two balls to Essex, the side that can’t lose, and the spoils were shared. Hats off to Foakes’ opposite number, Adam Wheater, whose take of a wide full ball from pacer Matt Quinn was a slick piece of keeping and deserved the stumping rather than run out that was recorded in the book against the last ball of the match.

Perhaps Wheater had been informed by John Simpson standing back to Tom Helm (understandably so – Helm is genuinely quick) as Kent looked for one run off the last three deliveries to beat Middlesex. After two dots, Jack Leaning scampered the bye to the keeper off the last ball (“scamper” is the only verb allowed in such circumstances) meaning Daniel Bell-Drummond and Zak Crawley’s opening stand of 89 in 6.5 overs did not return the victory it would do nine times out of ten. There are few more watchable opening pairs in the country than those two – if only we were allowed in to enjoy their work.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 26, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 25 August 2020

Ball One – Bartlett’s century bears fruit for cidermen

Somerset, six points clear at the top of the Central Group, prospered having rustled up a storm of their own to notch a win in quick time. George Bartlett and the Toms, Lammonby and Abell, scored undefeated tons, but the tempest came in the form of Craig Overton (9-51) and Josh Davey (7-46), who blew Gloucestershire away for 76 and 70 in just 73.5 overs. To collapse in both innings looks less like misfortune and more like carelessness, something that counties with little or nothing to play for in the final round of matches must guard against if the integrity of the competition is to be maintained.

Ball Two – Matt Milnes floors Surrey

In the South Group, Kent tucked in behind Essex (who can beat most opponents, but not the weather) with a late win over hapless Surrey at The Oval. After England’s hand sanitiser head honcho, Ben Foakes, had kept the home side in the game with a welcome century, Kent’s lower middle order proved as brittle in the second innings as they had been resilient in the first, the fourth innings target a gettable 192. But after Darren Stevens bagged the dangerous Laurie Evans for his fourth wicket, Matt Milnes preyed on winless Surrey’s lack of confidence and Kent had 17 runs in hand when the tenth wicket fell. Six points behind the leaders, Kent have Hampshire at home in the last group match with Essex hosting Middlesex – cue the clichés about abacuses and rain dances.

Ball Three – Murtagh kills off Sussex top order as Middlesex cruise home

Even with the Harmer and Porter combo to face, Middlesex may take some confidence from a fine win over Sussex at Radlett. Having conceded a first innings deficit of 90, Tim Murtagh did the Tim Murtagh thing, his three wickets reducing the visitors to 4-4, his eventual fivefer supported by Miguel Cummins’ and Martin Andersson’s two and three wickets apiece. There was still 63 to get when Andersson walked to the crease in the fourth innings, but he found the right partner in John Simpson, who’s seen it all before, and Middlesex were soon over the line with something to spare.

Ball Four – Marchant de Lange goes long, but Northamptonshire keep their heads

Two also-rans showed that they can still produce a fine game of cricket as Northamptonshire essentially won their match with Glamorgan twice over. They had the game done when Marchant de Lange walked out to have some fun at Number 10 with his team still in arrears, an innings defeat likely. He swung and connected, then swung and connected, got to three figures in 62 balls and the target was suddenly a tricky 189. It’s very easy to lose three or four quick wickets after brains have been scrambled like that, but the inexperienced pair of Emilio Gay and Charlie Thurston (backing up a first innings ton) showed admirable sang froid in getting Northants to the close just one down with a third of the job done. Gay was still there at the end, another couple of hours sufficient to confirm the points they felt they had earned some 24 hours or so earlier.

The original Bob

Ball Five – Batsman of the Bob

Ben Slater was loaned from Derbyshire to Nottinghamshire before that move was made permanent, but then, amidst the rubble of Nottinghamshire’s 2019 County Championship campaign, started the Bob on loan at Leicestershire, before being recalled to Notts, where the music has stopped and he’s now sitting comfortably. He started the season with 172 and 25, before a pair against old friends Derbyshire suggested that they had made the right decision in 2018. Recalled to Trent Bridge by his permanent employers, he must have been delighted to see the Lanky bowlers he had put to the sword a fortnight earlier line up for more punishment and he helped himself to 142. First and second round teammates, Leicestershire, occupied him for nearly five hours in the last round, 86 runs his bounty this time in a weather-affected draw.

At 28, Slater had more to fear than most as the truncated first class season got underway with dire warnings about county finances, but he got in and got on with it and is the leading run scorer in the Bob with just one round to play. Well batted.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Bob

Simon Harmer’s continuing excellence may be remarkable, but it’s also expected, so one looks one below him in the wickets table to find Craig Overton. The Somerset man has 23 wickets, supported by SF Barnesian stats: average 9.6; economy rate 1.9; and strike rate 30.

With twin Jamie off to Surrey (presumably on significantly improved terms) and finding himself down the pecking order for England, it might have been easy for Overton to sulk or, at minimum, coast at Taunton his gifts easily keeping him in the side without trying that hard. But they don’t really do that amongst the feisty perennial bridesmaids in the West Country and Overton has some handy runs to back up his bowling, as if to underline his point.

Somerset have five more Bob points than any of the other 17 counties, with the two group winners with most to progress to the Lord’s final. Can the county that has never flown the pennant become the one and only winners of the Bob Willis Trophy? Over to Overton.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 26, 2020

England vs Pakistan 2020 – The Report Cards


Rory Burns (20 runs at 5; 3 catches) – He was twice out LBW and twice caught in the cordon, which is not a good look against a new ball that is always going to shape in the air and deviate off the proud seam. After a series with no failures, a series with no successes. A fallible slipping technique did not help matters. Grade E.

Dom Sibley (98 runs at 25; 0 wickets; 3 catches) – In a tough series for openers, he twice batted two and a half hours to blunt the new ball and help set a platform. Grade B-.

Joe Root (94 runs at 31; 1 wicket at 42; 6 catches) – It will irk him as much as it does us that he gets the hard work done so often before he’s walking back to the pavilion with a “nothing” score. That said, his 42 contributed to the 96 on the scoreboard before handing over to Buttler and Woakes for their First Test chase to 277 – so that can count as “something”. For a man with the weaponry he can deploy in English conditions, he appears too sanguine about a drifting session of play. Shaking hands with 15 overs in hand, just two wickets from Yasir Shah and three Number 11s, was inexplicable with World Test Championship points at stake. Had Buttler and Woakes with the bat, and Ben Stokes with the ball, not rescued a losing position in the First Test, he might have faced more scrutiny about his captaincy. Grade C+.

Zak Crawley (320 runs at 160; 1 catch) –  Who expected the promise of July to deliver as soon as August? Balance is the key to his game, head, hands and feet instinctively in the right place at the right time for his array of attacking strokes. Roll in height and reach, allied to the surprisingly light footwork he uses to determine length to his taste, and England may have discovered the heir to Kevin Pietersen. He’ll have tougher days (especially as the analysts will be examining his game in minute detail) but the sky’s the limit for a batsman with his gifts.  Grade A+.

Ben Stokes (9 runs at 5; 2 wickets at 6; 2 catches) –  When Mohammad Rizwan was threatening to make a stiff target unreachable, an injured Ben Stokes (playing as a batsman) grabbed the ball and got him out, later adding a bunny to puff the stats a little. It was remarkable but also, somehow, expected. Compassionate leave opened up his spot for Zak Crawley – they’ll soon be batting together. Grade B+.

Ollie Pope (81 runs at 20) – Top scored in the first innings of the First Test, allowing England to retain a toehold in a match they were losing, but Yasir Shah’s box of tricks subsequently proved too much for a player still finding his feet at the highest level. Grade B.

Jos Buttler (265 runs at 88; 9 catches) – Those who supported their man through thick and thin were vindicated, but so too were those who claimed that he didn’t (then) have the technique for Test match batting. The small but significant tweaks we saw in the West Indies series – a modified forward trigger, the head going at the ball and not falling away, footwork more nimble, less leaden – paid off handsomely in two masterful innings of forbearance and character, one to win the First Test, the other to secure the series. On the other side of the wickets, we got the soft smiles of satisfaction that came with spectacular catching and a few scowls from bowlers as sitters were spilled. Still not the extraordinarily dominant player seen so often in white ball cricket, but a batsman who has finally found a method that works and used it to deliver game-changing innings. Grade A-.

Chris Woakes (143 runs at 72; 6 wickets at 28; 1 catch) – That he batted with such freedom to end a dry run might be expected – he has the talent and, five down with still 160 to get, what’s there to lose? But to get his team from “possibly” to “probably” to “definitely” with all the attendant pressures of a big fourth innings chase? That’s top class all-rounder work, not just a bowler who bats catching a lucky break.  Grade A.

Sam Curran (DNB; 1 wicket at 44) –  Knocked over a well set Abid Ali in the truncated Second Test in a generally tidy bowling display. Grade B.

Dom Bess (28 runs at 28; 3 wickets at 79) –  Is he the new Chris Schofield, whom Michael Atherton once snippily described as “A better batsman than he is a bowler.” A real competitor, trying so hard and aching to succeed, but is he the best spin option right now?  “Not even for Somerset”, is the rather damning reply, as his off-breaks were cut at will on a fifth day pitch. Grade D.

Jofra Archer (16 runs at 16; 4 wickets at 40) – He bowled very fast indeed at times with the infamous bouncer that disturbs – read hits – the very best batsmen when set on a flat deck. He doesn’t always get the wickets he deserves, but there’s no captain in the world who wouldn’t want him in their phalanx of rotating quicks. Grade B-.

Stuart Broad (51 runs at 26; 13 wickets at 16) – The infamous petulant/passionate (delete to taste) reaction to being dropped for the first Test of the summer has fired a five Tests long fit of fury that has seen the stumps targeted relentlessly (even when fielding). Did we ever doubt the 500 wickets man? We did, but not in this late “sitting on the top of off stump” incarnation that asks so many questions of batsmen that they inevitably just have to get some wrong. Grade A.

James Anderson (7 runs at 7; 11 wickets at 23) – Like a practised conjuror who shows you the Queen of Hearts then whisks it from sight only to produce it from your zipped inside jacket pocket, Anderson’s skills of misdirection allow him to produce the ball on sixth stump when you see it on off and on off stump when you felt it was almost wide enough to leave. How much more Test cricket is in him, time will tell, but it would be a brave selector indeed who can find three or four better options than the 600 man for the first Test of summer 2021. Grade A-.


Shan Masood (179 runs at 36; 0 wicket; 1 catch) – An outstanding 156 in the first innings of the series put his team ahead in a match they were winning for all but the last two hours or so. Thereafter, he struggled, as England’s wily old pair of pacers targeted his pads and swing and seam did the rest. Grade B.

Abid Ali (139 runs at 28) – His compact, orthodox style is a throwback to the pre-Sehwag, pre-Warner school of opening batsmen who get in and graft for their runs. Despite his modest returns, he batted over an hour in four innings of five in tough conditions, so he can be pleased with his work. Grade B.

Azhar Ali (210 runs at 53;  0 wicket) – The effigies were being readied as one of cricket’s gentlemen couldn’t buy a run and had failed to drive home a winning position as captain in the First Test. Then ,having toughed it out early on in the Third Test, he unfurled a sublime exhibition of subcontinental batting, solid defence punctuated by languid drives and controlled cuts and pulls that had this observer thinking of Zaheer Abbas. With the follow-on enforced, as the man in form, not out in the first dig and with eyes adjusted to the gloaming, he had the cojones to walk out in light so challenging that he did not, as it turned out, have to take guard. What mattered is that he was willing to do so for his team. His grace on the field and in interviews, under pressure, deep into weeks of lockdown, far from home, in miserable weather, does him, his country and cricket great honour. Grade A.

Babar Azam (195 runs at 49; 1 catch) –  He arrived with a reputation that marked him out as the successor to the great Younis Khan, who looked on, coach’s notebook in hand. In glimpses, you could see why, but batting in England is a hard road to travel and innings that promised to shape days merely shaped sessions.  Grade B+.

Asad Shafiq (67 runs at 13; 1 wicket at 24; 3 catches) –  The senior pro with plenty of experience in England, he never looked at ease and found ways of getting out that evidenced his lack of confidence. Grade D.

Shadab Khan (60 runs at 30; 2 wickets at 24; 2 catches) – A livewire in the field, a smile never far from his lips, he batted and bowled with plenty of confidence and showed enough to suggest that he might grow into a Ravindra Jadeja type player for Pakistan. Grade B.

Fawad Alam (21 runs at 11; 2 wickets at 23; 1 catch) – He infamously waited over a decade for another chance at Test cricket and promptly made a four ball duck. His esoteric face forward, bat raised stance, followed by a hop into a side on crouch as the bowler hits the crease, has delivered big runs in domestic cricket, but whether such a blizzard of movements can work at the highest level remains to be seen. Grade C.

Mohammad Rizwan (161 runs at 40; 5 catches, 1 stumping) – He seized the gloves from ex-skipper Sarfraz Ahmed (not a development met with universal acclaim) and it was easy to see why. An outstanding, if not flawless keeper, he batted with sound judgment and no little aggression and displayed that extra bit of vim all glovemen need. When he stumped Crawley to end his monumental innings, he celebrated, then led the charge of Pakistanis to congratulate the young Englishman – a wonderful moment in our game. Grade B+

Yasir Shah (63 runs at 16; 11 wickets at 33; 1 catch) –  The veteran turned his leg-break, hurried on his top spinner and threatened, even if the old one wasn’t quite there, to slip in the googly, all done with the bounce of his much missed predecessor, Abdul Qadir. The challenge of leading an inexperienced attack in English conditions proved a little too much in the end, but I shan’t be alone in hoping to see him open his box of tricks one more time in front of English crowds come the next tour Grade B.

Mohammad Abbas (6 runs at 2; 5 wickets at 36) –  Really? Five wickets? Every time you looked at the screen, he was wobbling one past a groping batsman like a Lancashire League pro hoping for a decent collection. But sometimes it’s like that – the ball hits the middle or fails to carry off the edge or misses the bat completely. Were he a little taller and a little quicker, he’d be his near namesake, Mohammad Asif, and he’d have 15 wickets and not five. Grade C+.

Shaheen Shah Afridi (14 runs at 5; 5 wickets at 52) –  He swung it into the pads, seamed it away towards the cordon and tried out the middle of the pitch with some sharpish short stuff, but, once the shine and hardness left the new ball, he looked like a 20 year old making his way in the game. Grade C.

Naseem Shah (5 runs at 2; 3 wickets at 69) – It was no hype! The kid has the most beautiful flowing action that can generate 90mph at will and possesses a heart that keeps him charging in and bowling fast. But he doesn’t yet know how to get batsmen out – how could he at 17? Grade C-.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 18 August 2020

Ball One – Tom Westley’s men lead in the South Group

In my mind’s eye, it’s always David Coleman in his staccato voice – “So Bill Beaumont, the simple question for you is, what happened next?”

I had turned on the radio and heard Don Topley saying, “24 runs needed for Essex; three wickets required by Sussex.” Regular readers of this column will know exactly what happened next.

The visitors may have been asked to make the highest innings of the four, but if Essex are in it, they usually win it. As so often, Simon “Michelle machine” Harmer was the key man, polishing off the Sussex tail with three of the last four wickets to fall in just seven overs, opening the door for Dan Lawrence to play the role that for many years fell to Ravi Bopara, his 60 the highest individual score of the match. Two of the more unsung members of this battle-hardened team, Paul Walter and Aaron Beard, held their nerve in an unbroken stand of 27 as the Hove shadows lengthened, to ensure that the only 100% record in the Bob Willis Trophy is held by the club who also fly the County Championship pennant.

Ball Two – Mason chisels out Stoneman’s tail

Hampshire is the only team in the South Group with two wins, having seen off a sorry Surrey by an innings and 72 runs. Stand-in captain, Mark Stoneman, can point to England calling dibs on some key players, but an XI including four men with Test match experience and another who has played for England A, should not be bowled out for 172 and 74.

Wisconsin-born, Australian reality TV star, Ian Holland, was the first innings destroyer with 6-60, but, after a James Fuller hat-trick, it was leg-spinner, Mason Crane (still only 23), who applied the second innings coup-de-grâce, with a couple of wickets to give him match figures of 12.4-3-27-5, four of which were LBW. The umpires were busy throughout play with over half the wickets to fall requiring them to raise the finger after batsmen had been rapped on the pads.

Hampshire play Essex next in what any journalist is obliged to describe as a “must-win” match.

Ball Three – Leach grants a target, but carries the day

This column had some harsh words for Worcestershire’s Joe Leach last week when he chose to bat on to set a target of over 350 only to run out of time with the oppo seven down. So it’s right and proper to lavish praise this week when Leach called in his centurion, Tom Fell (his first since surviving cancer), and a set Ed Barnard and asked Northamptonshire to make 263 in just over two sessions.

Leach might have been harbouring second thoughts as Northants were approaching 50 at four runs per over, but he won an LBW appeal against Ben Curran and wickets fell at regular intervals as the home side never really threatened to embarrass a man who was rewarded for the courage of his convictions.

Worcestershire top the Central Group.

Ball Four – Abell unable to take deserved victory

Fate, never backward at coming forward when Somerset hove into sight and there’s boxing gloves close to hand, sucker punched Tom Abell’s men again, as they took 16 points from a match in which Warwickshire somehow gathered 11.

The facts are that the visitors were bowled out for 121, then ran into an Overton (Jamie) who swung from the hip to make 120 from number 10, while Steven Davies dodged the shells at the other end compiling his own century. With 400 plus in the bank, Abell declared, and had eight of the nine wickets he needed (Matt Lamb nursing an injured toe) when the showers came in and stayed in for hour after hour, the scoreboard stuck on 140-8.

If you’ve scored 152 more runs than your opponents, used only nine of your 20 wickets and you’re an Oliver Hannon-Dalby wicket away from victory, I’d suggest 16-11 is a poor reflection of the balance of the game.

The fifth and final match of the group stage is between Somerset and Worcestershire which may prove to be a showdown for a place at Lord’s. Let’s hope it’s winner takes all and not an exercise in the accumulation and denial of bonus points. They do know something about “imaginative declarations” when Somerset play Worcestershire after all…

Ball Five – Malan (and Yorkshire) set for a good year in 2021

All three matches in the North Group finished in stalemates, the top two batting themselves to a standstill as almost half the match was lost to rain and bad light.

Were he a footballer, Dawid Malan would be said to have paid back a chunk of his close season transfer fee with a maiden double century for the Tykes, his 219 stretched across three days. England seem set on pigeonholing Malan as a white ball specialist, as they do county colleague, Jonny Bairstow. With both players in the prime of their careers, Yorkshire, whose fans probably venerate the Championship at least as much as those of any other county, should score the runs their bowlers need next season.

The only draw I want to see

Ball Six – A draw is no draw for the fans county cricket needs

This column loves a double forfeiture! You’ll hear terms like “manufactured target” and “declaration bowling” as others look on with disdain at such contrivances, but few other sports allow dead matches to be revived simply by the consent of the captains aided by a thoroughgoing appraoch to the commitment they all make at the toss – “We’re going out there to win the match.”

On the fourth day of its life, Ned Eckersley put Durham’s first innings out of its misery, skipped the match forward with a couple of “After yous” and it was game on, with Colin Ackermann set 292 in 82 overs.

When the rain came down, Leicestershire were favourites to do just that, three down with 84 required in 16 overs. But add two wickets to the score…

So it ended in a draw anyway, but my point is that even after 186 overs had been lost, a positive result was still possible, real jeopardy present for both sides. It’s disappointing that both teams had to forego the opportunity to score bonus points in Leicestershire’s forfeited first innings, another flaw in a points system that needs some tweaking if (and this column thinks it would be a grievous error) any element of the Bob Willis Trophy is carried over into 2021’s County Championship.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 12, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 11 August 2020

Ball One – Derbyshire lead the race in the North

For a phrase that is synonymous with clarity of vision, there’s little about 2020 that one could see coming – not least Derbyshire blazing a trail at the top of the Bob Willis Trophy North Group.

Having despatched poor old Nottinghamshire last week, Leicestershire were cleaned up by nine wickets in another excellent team performance. When you play a lot of 30-somethings (that is, players who average 30-odd or thereabouts with bat and ball) it helps if two or three have a good match at the same time. Opener, Luis Reece, set the foundation for a strong first innings posting a 107 run partnership for the second wicket with centurion, Wayne Madsen, having already chipped in with three wickets. Then Matt Critchley, at 23 still on his way to becoming a 30-something man, spun his leg-breaks from fourth change to bag six wickets and ensure Derbyshire’s second innings was a formality.

Ball Two – Jordan exacts high price for Notts’ lack of confidence

Yorkshire trailed by 96 runs on first innings and collapsed from 240-5 to 278 all out in the second dig to leave their opponents a highly gettable 188 in plenty of time. But those batsmen happened to be the less than merry men of Nottingham, and, 30 overs later, Yorkshire had stolen the points and smuggled them over the county line to the Broad Acres.

Jordan Thompson made 98 and 53, without which even Notts would surely have won and also helped himself to four wickets. With England’s David Willey carrying the drinks and hand sanitiser, competition for an all-rounder’s spot in the White Rose XI is fierce, but the Leeds-born Tyke has probably done enough to keep his spot for the next match, the top of the table clash with Derbyshire that may go a long way to deciding the group.

Ball Three – Surrey’s season grievously harmed by the Essex machine

In the South Group, Essex (the anti-Notts) lead the way after another masterclass from Simon Harmer. Playing through an injury, the most valuable player in county cricket warmed up with 31.3 – 11 – 67 – 6 and closed the deal with 31.4 – 15 – 64 – 8 to become the first bowler since “Deadly” Derek Underwood to register three hauls of 14 wickets or more in England – and without uncovered pitches to assist.

That kind of performance would be a challenge for a full-strength Surrey, but it proved far too much for a somewhat callow Surrey XI, depleted by England calls and injuries. Having lost their first two matches, Surrey have little to play for, so they may well give more chances to emerging talents like Jamie Smith and Amar Virdi. Essex, as they do, march on.

Gloveless Frank Marchant

Ball Four – Cox gives Sussex the pip

Kent annihilated Sussex with one of those scorecards that looks more 1920 than 2020. Replying to a perfectly respectable 332, the Bob Willis Trophy rules saved the visitors from further punishment at Canterbury with the scoreboard having whirred round to 530-1 off the 120 overs maximum allocation.

In a good week for Jordans (what would Fred and Trevor make of a phrase like that) Cox of that name made 238* and Jack Leaning, no doubt reflecting that his close season move from Yorkshire was paying off, trotted off with his score on 220*. The partnership was worth 423 and, were this a County Championship match without restrictions, who knows how many more they could have added. Even so, amongst many records broken, my favourite was the highest stand for Kent against Sussex, passing the 249 of George Hearne and Frank Marchant. Not that they’ll be too concerned, gone for 88 and 74 years respectively now.

Having endured that ordeal in the sun, probably the last sight (with the possible exception of an angry Sylvester Clarke) a batsman would want to see is Darren Stevens, refreshed after a day with his feet up, wobbling it a bit this way and a bit that. Five wickets for the 44 year-old and Sussex had some respite. if not many points.

Ball Five – Overtons in overdrive

No need for the cold flannels at Wantage Road, where Somerset leapt to the top of the Central Group with a two day win over hapless Northamptonshire.

Both innings for the visitors benefited from some long handle stuff from the tail, with each Overton twin registering a second innings half century to go with Craig’s 4-12 in the host’s first innings and Jamie’s 4-26 in the second. A niche statistical twins’ feat last achieved by the equally identical Bedsers for Surrey in 1951.

I’m not alone in wondering if this could be Somerset’s year at last – just when there’s no County Championship at stake…

Ball Six – Leach sucks life out of match with delayed declaration

In a truncated tournament like this, wins matter – not least because topping the group isn’t enough if you have fewer points than the other two group winners. Eight positive results from nine matches played in this round suggests that captains have worked out that positive cricket is the way to go.

Except Joe Leach, whose Worcestershire side had bossed the game after Jake Libby and Brett D’Oliveira had piled up 318 for the fourth wicket, the home side’s first innings closing on 455-8. Despite Billy Root’s century in reply, Glamorgan were still 81 down on first innings and 179 in deficit going into the last day.

Leach inexplicably used 37 precious overs extending the Glamorgan target to a notional 358 before having a bowl. 50 overs later, thanks largely to captain, Chris Cooke, the visitors returned to the principality with a draw, seven down.

Maybe Leach can see something I’m missing, and the 15 points won does put them second in the group behind Somerset, but, looking more widely, they’ve fewer points than Essex, Yorkshire and Derbyshire in the race for one of the two spots in the final. Had they given themselves ten more overs to bowl at a cost of the 60 runs they yielded, they might have snaffled those three wickets and topped the Central Group with the most points in the country. Time will tell if Leach got the balance right.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 5, 2020

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 4 August 2020

Ball One – Hampshire’s bowlers shrivel as Salt gets amongst them

Making a decent fist of it at the top of the England order are a couple of what you might call “Him again?” players. Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley built their cases for Test cricket by being there or thereabouts in the county game over a couple of years or more. Though not exactly swivel-pulling their first balls in Test cricket for four, both now look set for a decent run in the side.

Two cricketers who fall into the “Him again?” category delivered the first victory in the Bob Willis Trophy, Sussex getting home in less than three days at Hove. Phil Salt, who plays white ball cricket all over the world and red ball cricket in England with no diminution in facility, made 68 and 80, the two highest scores in the match, comprising more than 22% of the runs scored off the bat. Ollie Robinson’s 34.1 – 12 – 65 – 8 did the job with the ball, as Hampshire were dismissed twice for 150 or so.

Both men were called up for England’s extended early season training squad, but were released back to Sussex. If they continue to get mentions in dispatches, they should make sure that their phones are on over the next few weeks – they might be the next “Him again?” selections.

Ball Two – Essex have more than one way to win

Essex victory over Kent told us something that we all knew – no county wins more matches from dicey positions than the Chelmsford Massive. After Heino Kuhn’s 140 and a couple of wickets for Darren Stevens, senior pro, Ryan ten Doeschate, found himself at the crease with half his side back in the pavilion, 243 runs in arrears. With a bit of help from Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer, he kept the first innings deficit below 100 – and you can imagine the talk in this “winningest” of dressing rooms. Cue Jamie Porter and Sam Cook to knock the top off the Kent innings and Simon Harmer to clear up the tail – 202 required.

Sir Alastair Cook was looking for a partner and found one in debutant Feroze Khushi, another local lad, but they were both gone when Wheater had only Number 10, Sam Cook, for company with 31 still to get. They got them – of course, they got them.

Ball Three – Samit hits the sweet spot at Number 8, but result is a bitter pill

In common with most of his Nottinghamshire teammates, Samit Patel endured a miserable 2019, his form only returning with some late season runs and wickets on loan at Glamorgan. I can only imagine his reaction when his captain, Steve Mullaney, welcomed him home with the words, “Sam – you’re doing 8” – with 26 first class hundreds under his capacious belt, that’s enough to make anyone choke on their Mars Bar. But Samit did a “Stuart Broad” and channelled any feeling of rejection into motivation; quickfire knocks of 63 and 80 were just what the side needed when fragile confidence might have led to two under par innings totals.

But if Notts (the reverse Essex) learned anything during their nightmare 2019 season, it’s how to lose matches and Derbyshire fashioned their biggest ever run chase to get up to 365 with a ball to spare, Fynn Hudson-Prentice the hero with an undefeated 91. But, Oh Nottinghamshire!

Ball Four – Ackermann backs his men and delivers the win

With just five matches to play and the two top points scorers amongst group winners to progress to the final, victories matter more than ever this summer. We should see some positive cricket and that’s what long-suffering Leicestershire fans got from their captain.

Lancashire’s XI was as green as any who have turned out for the Red Rose, but they had clawed their way to a second innings total of 236 off 109 overs, leaving just 15 for Colin Ackermann’s men to muster the 150 runs needed for the win. The skipper led from the front with 73 off 41 (no white ball cricket restrictions remember) supported by 25 off 23 from first innings centurion, Ben Slater and a 33 off 18 blitz from Harry Dearden. Let’s hope that attitude is a sign of things to come.

Ball Five – Middlesex cash in as Surrey’s batting fades away

The London derby started with disappointment for Surrey fans who had their spam sandwiches already packed before the government pulled the plug on crowds at sports events. it finished in disappointment too, a  lame surrender of the last five wickets for four runs in seven overs sending the spoils across the Thames. Sure Surrey were under-strength, but seven visiting bowlers took wickets to ensure that Nick Gubbins 192 and 60 were not in vain.

Surrey have a lot of talented young players but, with opportunities presenting themselves with regular first teamers away with England squads, they’ll need to show that indefinable alchemy that converts such quality into the hard currencies of runs and wickets.

Mother Cricket finding the right tune

Ball Six – Well played, everyone, well played

In this summer like none other, we didn’t know if we would get domestic cricket at all and, if we did, what it would look like, and even if it would be a welcome distraction or an ill-judged sideshow. Cricket is bigger than that – even its socially distanced, one-man-and-a-dog version (a format that’s far more popular than the lazy stereotyping would have you believe). Thousands of people made an effort, real imagination provided a viable format and players, tyros and veterans, gave their all.

Mother Cricket looked upon her fearful and forsaken children, and she smiled.



Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 29, 2020

England vs West Indies 2020 – The Report Cards

One for Jason and one for Shannon


Rory Burns (234 runs at 47; 1 catch) – Still all twitches, crazy pick-ups and rush of blood offside slashes, but concentrates like Magnus Carlsen and is as unflappable as his piratical face furniture is flamboyant. Never batted less than an hour, something the strokemakers down the order appreciate more than the viewers at home. Grade A-.

Dom Sibley (226 runs at 45) – His monumental 120 in the Second Test allowed Ben Stokes to play with freedom and proved critical in a critical win. Needs to present the full face early in his innings and find a way to make the angles that quick singles demand. Not quite Alastair Cook, but might grow into a handy replacement. Grade B+.

Joe Root (130 runs at 43; 4 catches) – Can appear burdened the way England captains do and will lose five years when regaining his boyish looks the moment he hands over the reins. His fields don’t always reflect the bowling resources at his disposal, especially when batsmen are feeling their way into an innings against a moving ball. The batting mojo showed its face again in a pressure-free charge to the Third Test declaration. Grade B-.

Zak Crawley (97 runs at 24) – A class act in his fluent First Test 76, but a lack of runs elsewhere made him the easy fall guy when England had to reshape the XI for the decider. At 22, one for the future. Grade C+.

Joe Denly (47 runs at 24) – As usual, he batted time, but never looked in because his talent is a notch below what’s required. He’s played 15 Tests, but probably won’t play a 16th. Grade C-.

Ben Stokes (363 runs at 91; 9 wickets at 16; 2 catches) – Apart from an annoying propensity to drop occasional slip catches, at the peak of his considerable game. Once the toss formalities were completed, looked like England’s best player in the First Test and the world’s best player in the Second, but couldn’t bowl in the Third and was done second-guessing a Roach bouncer when set for another big score. Grade A.

Ollie Pope (134 runs at 34; 2 catches) – Lit up a quiet series with a dazzling 91 in the last Test, out playing across the line on the second morning with a big century at his mercy. I expect he won’t make that mistake again. Grade B-.

Jos Buttler (151 runs at 30; 12 catches) – In tricky conditions for keepers, he delivered the minimum of outplaying his opposite number. A front foot adjustment helped him to a much need half-century in the final Test, but can still look static and unbalanced if he’s not lifting a ball bowled into the slot for six. Grade B-.

Chris Woakes (1 run at 1; 11 wickets at 17; 1 catch) – As he always does, used his textbook action and strong wrist to challenge batsmen consistently in English conditions and cashed in against some tired shots in the last afternoon. Needs to relax a little more into his batting. Grade B+.

Sam Curran (17 runs at 17; 3 wickets at 33) – Into the side, take a few wickets, win a home Test, out of the side. A clever bowler who swings, skids and cuts the ball off a fullish length and looks a classy Number 8. Another whose time will come, but possibly not on an Ashes Tour. Grade C+.

Dom Bess (83 runs at 83; 5 wickets at 42, 1 catch) – A smart cricketer, who bowled, batted and fielded situations with skills and judgement beyond his years. The nagging doubt remains that handy 20s and 30s and economical hauls of 2-80odd might not be quite enough to hold down the specialist spinner role. Can he take his game up a notch? Grade C+.

Jofra Archer (26 runs at 9; 4 wickets at 51; 1 catch) – When he played, he bowled a fast stock ball with a very fast variation, his ribcage ticklers and bouncers unpickable and very sharp indeed. Bowls as many unplayable balls per spell as any bowler in the world right now, but took his wickets in this series “at the other end” as some genuine quicks do having shaken the batsmen up. Grade C.

Stuart Broad (73 runs at 73; 16 wickets at 11; 1 catch) – Stung by being left out in Southampton, pitched up in Manchester and made his point by pitching it up. Whisper it, but he bowled like Glenn McGrath 2005 and batted like Stuart Broad 2009, the highlight his ascension to the 500 Club with a pitched up delivery that kept a little low. A masterclass in bowling to the conditions. Grade A+.

Mark Wood (7 runs at 4; 2 wickets at 55) – Bowled fast, but hampered by a high maintenance action and the ineluctable truth that he is not as good a bowler as his direct rival, Jofra Archer. Grade C-.

James Anderson (5 wickets at 30; 25 runs at 13; 2 catches) – If the one that’s angling into the top of off but just holds its line to take the edge doesn’t get you, the in-dipping, nip-backer through the gate will. At nearly 38, he looks like he could play until he’s 48. His figures don’t reflect it, but this was another high class series from the oldest swinger in town. Grade B.

West indies

Kraigg Brathwaite (176 runs at 29; 1 catch) – Limited, but gets in and doesn’t want to get out, which is a good attribute for an opener. His camping on the back foot style had England’s seamers licking their lips – not without cause, as he provided Broad’s 500th Test wicket just as he had Anderson’s, three years ago. Grade C.

John Campbell (84 runs at 17; 1 catch) – The Gordon Greenidge to his partner’s Larry Gomes, he drives and pulls with supreme confidence, but cameos don’t really cut it in the cauldron of Test match cricket. Grade D+.

Shai Hope (105 runs at 18; 3 catches) – The Hero of Headingley 2017 looks lost trying to locate a game that looks as foreign to him in red ball cricket as it is natural in white ball. He provided glimpses of his class on the drive, but is all at sea mentally and has become a walking wicket. Grade D.

Shamarh Brooks (195 runs at 33) – A late-blooming very classy strokemaker who conjures images of the Caribbean greats of the past, but needs some proper scores to back up the style. Grade B-.

Roston Chase (157 runs at 26; 10 wickets at 34) – Never let his captain down with bat, ball or in the field, but more of a 6 than a 5 and more a stock than strike bowler. Likes taking English wickets with the simple plan of being on the money when the mistake comes. Grade B.

Jermaine Blackwood (211 runs at 35; 1 catch)- The mercurial mini-masterblaster who played against type to deliver a brilliant chase in the First Test. But if he doesn’t learn to play the percentages better, he’s never going to realise a very considerable potential. Grade B.

Shane Dowrich (126 runs at 21; 7 catches) – Like many a visitor to the other Old Trafford in the Ferguson years, he seemed intimidated by the unique challenges of Manchester, the ball wobbling after passing the bat in often murky light, Hard to believe that the confidence that he exuded at the Ageas Bowl had deserted him so quickly, the short ball proving particularly problematic, with a literal as well as metaphorical smack in the mouth the reward for his troubles. Grade C-.

Jason Holder (114 runs at 29; 10 wickets at 30; 5 catches) – To his and his team’s immense credit, he left a safe home for an uncertain destination, lived weeks in a bubble, dealt with aches, pains, Broad and Anderson and was still in with a shout of retaining the Wisden Trophy on the last day. That commitment should not be forgotten when cricket’s financial cake is divided into slices and crumbs. He was brilliant in the First Test but, inevitably, tired later in the series and made some less than optimum decisions at the toss and in selecting bowlers. A popular and worthy successor to the long line of fine West Indian captains stretching back to Sir Frank Worrell. Grade B+.

Kemar Roach (15 runs at 5; 8 wickets at 37; 1 catch) – The old pro and mentor to the young bowlers on tour never slumped in the shoulders and smiled whether he’d had success or not. An admirable campaigner whose canny variations beat the bat continually. Grade B-.

Shannon Gabriel (4 runs at 2; 11 wickets at 32) – Just when you thought that he was immobile in the field and couldn’t possibly bowl, he charged in for another hostile spell, mixing attacks on the body with attacks on the stumps. Broken by the end though. Grade B.

Rakheem Cornwall (12 runs at 6; 0 wickets; 2 catches) – Parachuted into the Third Test with the very stiff brief to take wickets, he was outbowled by Roston Chase and was kept going in the declaration batting for want of alternatives. Bowled better than his 0-164 figures attest, but still very green. Grade C-.

Alzarri Joseph (59 runs at 20; 3 wickets at 61; 2 catches) – His slippery movement off the seam deserved more than his numbers suggest and, with both senior quicks in their 30s, likely to assume leadership of the attack soon. Grade C.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 21, 2020

The Final Over of the Second Test – England vs West Indies

Old Trafford’s builder

Ball One – Stokesing up the hype

There’s a time in every great sports star’s life when everything just bends to their will – indeed, it’s that time that characterises them as a great, and not merely a very good (as t’were). Ben Stokes may not yet have the numbers (maybe he never will in the traditional currencies) but he is building a portfolio of performances in which the game simply adhered to his requirements. Ball beat bat continually while he made 176 in tough conditions; his first innings NeilWagnering of the West Indies middle order looked in vain until it produced the crucial wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite; and his slash and burn second innings produced a near optimal result in the circumstances. Ben Stokes is a great player all right.

Ball Two – Broadly correct

A few years ago, I was commentating on Stuart Broad playing in the West Indies and I couldn’t understand why he was jogging in and stopping the speedgun at around 80mph as the ball floated down the wicket. We all knew he was a streaky bowler, but the magic looked a very long way off. He was hurt by his omission from the First Test (any player would be) but went public (few would do that) loading up the pressure to deliver. After 19 fruitless overs, he needed to back up his fighting talk with a knockout blow or two. Thence, he bowled 4-2-2-3 to torpedo the first innings and delivered 15-5-42-3 in the second. Leg pumpingly good!

Ball Three – Dam the Shannon door on Friday

Everyone loves a wholehearted cricketer and few fit that description better than the West Indies’ big quick, Shannon Gabriel. Though clearly running on empty, he kept coming in, bowling fast and making life uncomfortable for England’s batsmen. But, like an ageing heavyweight who knows the last thing that goes is his punch and that a puncher always has a chance, sometimes the best decisions are made in the corner. Whether he should have started this Test is one such – surely he won’t start the next.

Ball Four – Best foot forward

The last words I would have said to each batsman as they left the changing room would be “Get forward!” Stokes’ bouncer attack showed how much effort was required to get the ball even armpit high and very few deliveries leapt, though a few squatted. Maybe it’s still early season (two tension-filled Tests may have made us complacent about the rustiness of the sides), but, especially with captains’ inexplicable reluctance to post short legs, surely batsman must play forward and take LBW and bowled out of the bowlers’ weaponry. You might get hit, but you probably won’t.

Ball Five – Gloomy about Manchester

Old Trafford seems to have been under development for about as long as Donald Trump’s tax returns have been under audit – and the work-in-progress is about as ugly. The beautiful Atkinson Grimshawy old pavilion has been swamped by sightscreens and corporate box glass and the rest of the ground looks like the product of a Lego Movie fever dream. Where is the identity, the focus, the cricketness? The multi-purpose event venue may keep the beancounters happy and it may even be less ugly in real life, but on television, the ground of Laker’s 19, Viv’s 189 and Botham’s 118 is a mess.

Ball Six – Friday I’m in love

The cure for the lockdown blues proved to be a couple of tight Test matches with a decider set up for Friday. I’m always keen to praise the players for their efforts in entertaining us, but more than ever this time, with protocols to follow and (no doubt) some long hours in hotel rooms. And also to the backroom and venue staff and even the media. without whose commitment none of this would have happened. Most gratitude goes to Jason Holder, who could have led his team by staying home, but he didn’t. He put his Wisden Trophy on the line and it’s still there now. Pace Marlon Samuels, I salute you Sir.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 13, 2020

The Final Over of the First Test – England vs West Indies

Ball One – Jason Holder held the advantage

Ben Stokes wouldn’t be human if he didn’t wince a little as his shout at the toss proved correct and he faced the tricky choice of whether to bat or bowl. He’d selected two speedsters in Jofra Archer and Mark Wood (with his own thunderbolts up his sleeve), and could also call upon the world’s most prolific pacer with a containing off-spinner in hand to offer control. Skies were grey and the forecast wasn’t good. Jason Holder must have smiled when Stokes sent out one of England’s least experienced top orders ever to face the music. “Do what your opponent doesn’t want you to do” goes the cliché – it’s not wrong.

Ball Two – England gain an edge and lose wickets

Batsmen can be forgiven for being rusty – whether quite so many technical flaws should be excused is a different matter. Right through the order, English bats seem to close on striking the ball, the “working to leg” almost obsessively pursued even when Holder, no fool, packed the onside field having asked his bowlers to maintain a tight line. There’s a reason for bat width to be restricted to 108mm – why batsmen should knock a few extra cms off voluntarily and bring in the leading edge as a mode of dismissal, is beyond your correspondent’s ken.

Ball Three – “Top of off stump lads”

The West Indies attack bowled in the image of their captain – with great discipline, good plans and no little skill. Lines were tight, lengths fullish and most balls needed to be played. Even when England looked comfortable (Stokes and Zak Crawley on Day Four say), it lasted but a few minutes before the vice was reapplied. Such an approach can make the odd bad ball a dangerous weapon, as Rory Burns discovered in the second innings, slashing a rare Roston Chase long hop to a grateful John Campbell. One feels that the visitors will win more attritional sessions than they lose, something England’s captain appeared to recognise just before his second innings flurry of boundaries off Kemar Roach was choked off almost before it began. Naturally, his opposite number was the successful bowler.

Ball Four – The Buttler didn’t do it – again.

Joe Denly’s marshallow-soft second innings bunt to Holder off a nothing ball from Chase giving him an Denlyish 29 to go with a Denlyish 18 in the first dig, ushers Joe Root back for Old Trafford. A trickier decision concerns England’s white ball superman who increasingly treats the red ball as kryptonite. Jos Buttler’s first class average is closer to Sam Curran’s than it is to his potential replacement, Ben Foakes, so when he’s in a bad trot, it’s pretty bad. Worse still is a technique that is almost a caricature, the “stand still and poke or slog as the ball comes past” club cricketers have seen from a Number 7 who gets one blazing century a season to go with plenty of scores below 20. At nearly 30 years of age, patience with the man who has nine ODI centuries in 117 innings but just one Test ton in 75 knocks, is surely running out.

Ball Five – Jermaine makes his point

It’s seldom that the three outstanding performances in a Test will all be on the losing side, so West Indies probably won this Test more comfortably than the scores suggest. Stokes played well, Dom Bess and Crawley showed promise and Archer showed why his X Factor hostility puts him ahead of Wood in any discussion, but none matched the three leading West Indians. Holder’s first innings 6-42 set the match up (aided by his brilliant reviewing), Shannon Gabriel’s nine wickets pinned England back whenever the initiative hove into view and Jermaine Blackwood played an innings of unexpected forbearance to take his side from 27-3 to within a couple of blows of victory. In football terms, the margin was two clear goals

Ball Six – Raising a glass to Holder and Holding

After his extraordinarily personal and moving reflections on the life of a black man in cricket – the life of one of the greatest cricketers ever, lest we forget – Michael Holding enjoyed a remarkable Test match. Often in the past, and with good cause, his spirits would be dampened by the maladministration of West Indian cricket, by players too arrogant to learn the basics of the Test cricket and by a noble game’s inexorable slide into a form of garish entertainment. Not so in this match. His insights into technique and tactics, his stories of his own journey to greatness under the watchful eye of Andy Roberts and his commentary sessions in the company of Ebony Rainford-Brent (who also had a very good match) were a delight to hear. A chubby white boy in Liverpool saw Mikey bowl in 1976 and his life was changed. Thank you Sir.

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